North Goa feels the tourist pinch

Posted: 29 March 2005

For the two million visitors who land on her shores each year, Goa is just a good holiday destination. But the impact of mass tourism is strongly being felt on the shores of North Goa, where tourism first took root in the 1960s. Frederick Noronha reports.

North Goa's most scenic spot is being squeezed of its water resources, choked by sewage, swamped by population pressures, and its skyline and vegetation are undergoing a drastic change, says a series of recently published studies on the subject. Unless something is done fast, the price to be paid could be serious.

Nizmar resort in Bardez, Goa
Nizmar resort in Bardez, Goa
The Nizmar Resort, Bardez, Goa
North Goa is a major tourist destination and a "hub of a variety of tourism-related activities," state a team of scientists from the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography, in a new book, Coastal Tourism, Environment, and Sustainable Local Development.*

They point out that over half a million tourists visit the beaches and other coastal places of this district each year. Currently, an estimated two million tourists visit Goa each year, of which nearly a quarter-million are foreigners. Degraded dunes

Goa's tourism belt is becoming overcrowded. Candolim, a former fishing village now turned tourist hotspot, immediately south of the overbuilt and once world-famous Calangute beach, has a density of 1,021 persons per kilometre, compared to Bardez taluka's 624 persons.

Male immigration into the tourism areas of Goa has reversed the earlier favourable-to-women sex ratio here.

But all this is not without its problems.

Tourism is highly seasonal in Goa. Since it is concentrated in the non-monsoon months of October-March, this causes some problems of its own. One of the fallouts is that Goa has to 'scale up' its infrastructure to be able to meet the demands that arise in the peak season. So, facilities are under-utilised in the off-season, and the tourist population outnumbers the local host population in season. This places additional stress on coastal resources.

As much as 57 per cent of households in Assagao and 50 per cent in Arpora and Parra - all villages around coastal areas of North Goa, which have stakes in tourism - have stopped cultivating their agricultural land.

Estimates also show that some 65 per cent of rent-backs are owned by non-resident Goans, 20-25 per cent by Goans from India's metropolises, and 10-15 per cent by natives residing in Goa itself.

"Qualitative research indicates a feeling among local people (despite their involvement) that the gains from tourism are not substantial. There is a growing feeling that large hotels and external groups are cornering the economic benefits, while the local population has to bear the social and environmental burden," warn the scientists.

"There have been instances of locals fighting to prevent major hotel projects, such as the proposed Japanese village at Morjim, and also extension programmes of hotels. Locals view migrant groups with a feeling of distrust, as they feel that the lack of stake in land within the tourist village allows these groups to have short-term interests in tourism...," they add.

Water stress

In the Baga-Nerul watershed, covering villages again in the North Goa coast, it was found that sewage was hardly being treated. In 99 per cent of low-budget, 100 per cent of middle-budget, 89 per cent of high-budget, and 33 per cent of luxury hotels, sewage was being disposed of in soak-pits or tanks. Only 11 per cent of high-budget and 67 per cent of luxury hotels were able to treat their sewage, as they had treatment plants.

"Since Goa depends on (the neighbouring states of) Karnataka and Maharashtra for its food products, it is evident that there is a high leakage of the potential income that could have been generated, were local sources to supply food to the tourism industry," says the study.

In terms of water requirement, low-budget hotels needed 573 litres per room per day. Luxury hotels, in contrast, needed 1,335 litres per room per day, as they have huge landscaped areas, swimming pools, two or three restaurants, and other facilities.

According to the researchers T G Japtap, K Desai and R Rodrigues: "The beaches of Goa were reported to be very clean with dense vegetation and magnificent dunes three decades ago. Over-exploitation of the beaches for tourism-related activities has severely degraded the sand dune habitats."

Another study warns that "groundwater in coastal Bardez (taluka) is stressed due to tourism-related activities. Groundwater quality has deteriorated due to indiscriminate disposal of human-generated waste, including disposal from septic tanks and cesspools. The bacterial and nitrate concentrations are quite abnormal in almost all the coastal stretches of Bardez taluka."

Dr Lourenco and Dr Jorge of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal say tourism causes these problems worldwide:

  • Land is abandoned for speculation, as rural land prices rise.
  • Traditional systems of cultivation are converted.
  • Agriculture becomes a part-time activity by active workers who have shifted to the service sector.
For Goa, where this has already happened, the alarm bells are ringing.

Frederick Noronha is a freelance journalist based in Goa.

Source: Third World Network Features

* Coastal Tourism, Environment, and Sustainable Local Development, is published by the Energy and Resources Institute Coastal Tourism, Environment, and Sustainable Local Development, published by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI, formerly Tata Energy Research Institute).